I Have A Motion Dec 6, 2013

by Eric Pitsenbarger

This is as multi layered as it gets. I’ve often wondered aloud what it would be like to be that proverbial fly on the wall. A bug-eyed witness to events hidden from view by an air vent or rafter, gleaning interesting details only hinted at and with this production of Dayna Hansen’s “The Clay Duke” I got my wings. Partnered as I am to one of the principle players, who’s been working with Dayna and her chosen family of performers for several years now, I’ve been given the unique opportunity to buzz around the stage, privy to many of the multi-faceted, hard won and thoughtful details that have fed this production and at this point the epiphany for me is, what exactly will an audience do with all of these details?


It’s been a long collaborative process inspired by and coaxed from seemingly odd source material: A school shooting caught on camera. Focused to record mundane school board minutes, the film suddenly becomes harrowing journalism as it instead, documents the forced encounter of a trespassing, disturbed vigilante and the unprepared desk jockeys who are thrust into crisis intervention. Dayna has found in this shocking chapter the details of lives interrupted and of deep allegory recognizable to any one of us. Looking through the device of this camera (our disembodied eyes), what emerges are disquieting truths and a new focus. Recreated, stirred and shaken, the event is rendered into onion skin, microscopic nuance that seem to trigger a scatter shot compassion.


It should be said here that anyone familiar with Dayna’s work will already have a penchant for subtle detail and may possess among other things, an awareness of human duality, of paradox and the ability to weather momentary frustration in a confusing puzzle. “The Clay Duke” is not a linear story line per se but more analogous to a shattered mirror refracting endless, skewed details that are only glimpsed in sharp angles. It’s only as the pieces are fit together that more layers are exposed. You have to join in the work of rearranging this puzzle and it’s a large part of the experience. I’d suggest also a healthy dollop of sardonic humor.


My fly-boy intention here is to help people get a better grip on what is required of an audience going into this dense, challenging and ultimately rewarding treatise on non-violence. It’s a wild ride over an exhaustingly researched landscape, through a tragic event and telling message. Timely, critical and engaging, it’s an unexpected, out of left field artistic tour-de-force. This is as I’ve said, a collaborative work from artists at the top of their game and it’s precisely because of the strength of their abilities that the message hits so dead on target.


Everyone has a few cameo moments that exemplify their talents: Thomas’ brand of crazy is just fun to watch, the gulf between fay and surly shrinks perceptibly and the surreal melding of he and Wade’s character is mind bending. The choreography between these two is a master class in body language. Elegant Wade, lurking in the shadow of Chekhovian pathos, slithers between angst ridden victim and oily Cabaret seducer. Whatever you do, don’t look into his eyes! Peggy’s certified deadpan blithely skewers the seriocomic melodrama. Her precise timing and serene demeanor also helped me get closer into the heart of the story. Dave’s tough guy weapons master kung fu bit had me crossing my legs, for fear I’d loose a nut! His sweet, melancholy music is a calm sea of lullaby that belies the machete kill of foreboding. Sarah is so convincing in a tamped down grey suit, so effective perched behind a desk, furthering the motion to overwhelm with banality that when she finally breaks towards the end of the show (her mask of authority replaced with that of a fearful father), it’s the shock that binds; and let’s just say, that taking dictation from this character must be a super human feat. And Dayna…the heroin who gives us back our humanity after all the emergency vehicles are gone, reaching out with the simple, spoken truth of life’s difficultys. Her delicate, broken wing movement beautifully portrays the tensile strength found in a steadfast partner. Her instruction of what it feels like to have just killed someone…it’s not good, galvanizes the conscience and raises us higher. 


End note: I had the great luck to visit the “work in progress” during their Netherlands stint at International Art’s Festival: Noorderzon and although the show has changed somewhat (and I miss a couple of those myriad details), this incarnation of “The Clay Duke” has captured the chaotic emotion embedded, while focusing a laser light on our interpretation and responsibility for change within it. Strap yourself in.